It is vital to build an appropriate counter-narrative to the mischievous and false narrative spread by power-brokers in Kashmir. The narrative that has gained acceptance in the rest of the country is that the nearly 2000 square km of the Valley represents the entire state of Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh; that aspirations of the people in the state are nearly identical and that the contradictions among them are only region specific. That narrative says that Kashmir is a “political problem” and needs nothing but a political solution. However, that narrative does not enjoy universal support in Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh. Saner Kashmiri voices, like those of former ministers Haseeb Drabu and Muzaffar Hussain Baig, have challenged that narrative but they have been cowed down.
Jammu and Kashmir is like a bouquet comprising many religions and ethnic groups. However, political aspirations and needs of the people of Jammu and Ladakh, who constitute over half the state’s population and inhabit about 90 per cent of its area, and Kashmiri pundits and Muslims, are conflicting.
The state’s largest region Ladakh, which has an area of 96,701 sq km. Ladakh’s population is split roughly between the districts of Leh and Kargil. 76.9 per cent population of Kargil is Muslim (mostly Shia) while that of Leh is 66.5 percent Buddhist. Jammu is next in size, with an area of 26,293 sq. km. It is largely Hindu (63 per cent) with 32 per cent Muslims and 5 per cent others, including Sikhs. The Kashmir Valley, with a land area of 15,853 sq. km is predominantly Muslim with a sprinkling of minority Hindus and Sikhs. While most Muslims there are Sunni, Shias constitute 15 per cent of the population.
J & K state is a blend of several ethnic groups, like Kashmiris, Dogras, Gujjars and Bakerwals, Paharis, Baltis, Ladakhis and Gaddis. Dogras are spread across the Jammu region. Paharis, Gujjars and Bakerwals inhabit Ladakh. Muslims can be broadly divided into Kashmiri Muslims inhabiting the southern portion of Kashmir, Shias, Paharis, Gujjars, Bakerwals, Balti and Dard Muslims.
The composition of the population is an important factor. Shias, Gujjars and Bakerwals strongly oppose the concept of “azadi” and merger of the state with the theocratic, feudalistic Pakistan and pre-1953 constitutional position. They perceive that they would be treated no better than the Muhajirs, Shias, Ahmediyas, Sikhs, Hindus and Christians in Pakistan.
Farooq Abdullah, three-time chief minister whose National Conference party has directly or indirectly ruled the state for five decades, continues to say, "Kashmir is a political issue and it cannot be resolved through economic packages or other concessions." Even Sunni Muslim votaries of the “political problem” are a divided house, with different voices of azadi; merger with theocratic Pakistan, autonomy/self-rule and complete integration with India.
Also quoted in support of the “political problem” are the UN Security Council resolutions and plebiscite. It was Pakistan that refused to comply with the provisions of the UN resolution 47 which required complete vacation of occupied areas by Pakistan and a total pullout of its army. Pakistan not only avoided plebiscite but later also illegally ceded a large portion of the state’s territory to China. To complicate the matter further, Pakistan changed the demography of Pakistan Occupied J&K, particularly the Shia-dominated Gilgit-Baltistan. Thus, plebiscite and UN resolution have become redundant.
While Drabu sees the problem as social, veteran PDP leader Baig sees it as a fight between “hell and heaven”, a religious movement. “It is an ISI sponsored religious war in Kashmir. It is not a fight for political freedom or choice between India and Pakistan but between heaven and hell,” Baig is reported to have said while speaking during a discussion on “Kashmir: the way forward”, organised by a Delhi-based think tank.
Separatist leader Syed Ali Shah Geelani defined the struggle long ago as “Azadi barae Islam.” Undoubtedly, what Kashmir is facing today can be defined as a “religious problem.”
Terrorism and Islamisation are two sides of the same coin in Kashmir today. Zakir Musa says the struggle is not for ‘azadi’ (freedom) but for establishment of Shariat and Islam. For young terrorists who call themselves Mujahideen, the movement is essentially Islamic; the political part is secondary. They are determined to retain the monolithic character of modern Kashmir and hate the word secular. The concept of a composite culture is anathema to them. The jihadis are motivated by Islamic State ideology which believes in barbaric elimination of those who differ with them. The aim is to make Kashmir an Islamic state; they abhor “inclusivity”.
“Islamism and Wahabism are the only ideologies that promise paradise for killing and butchering other people in the name of Islam,” says Imam Twahidi, a progressive Muslim cleric. This is what Baig is referring to as a choice between “heaven and hell.” This ideology is what drives educated Kashmiri youth towards militancy and terrorism; the desire to attain ‘jannat’ or heaven.
Growing radicalisation is the root cause of the problems in Kashmir today.
There are enough indicators to confirm the theory of a “religious problem.” There is resistance to the return of Kashmiri Pundits who were forced to leave their homes in the early ‘90s, coerced by slogans of “Hum kya chahte, Azadi! Azadi ka matlab kya? La ilahaillallah” (What we want ‘freedom’! What does azadi mean? There is no God but Allah).
Having succeeded in hounding out the Hindus, Sufi Islam was replaced by hard line Wahabism; indicators for which are waiving ISIS flags from ramparts and minarets of mosques and during funeral of terrorists, proliferation of radical madarsa education, non-condemnation of killing of innocents by terrorists, frequently labelling the J&K police as infidels, blaming Indian agencies for the Sunjuwan attack, because soldiers killed there were Muslim, mourning deaths of terrorists but not condemning killing of Indian soldiers, opposing the grant of land to raise structures for smooth conduct of the Amarnath yatra, not condemning barbaric killings of non-Muslims by ISIS and opposing removal of Article 35A but supporting claims of Rohingyas to live in the state.
The Salafi-jihadis' dream of converting Kashmir into an Islamic State and using it as a launch pad for the final assault on India, termed ‘Ghajwa-e-Hind’.
Unfortunately, the two Kashmir-based political parties fighting for political space in J&K are also using religion to enhance their political survival. Though the word secular was included in the preamble of the Constitution of India in 1977, it has yet to be included in the J&K Constitution because of the reluctance of these parties. The recent proposal by NC, backed by the Peoples Democratic Party and Congress, to grant regional and sub-regional autonomy is also an attempt to divide the state on religion and regional lines. It is a recipe for disaster and disintegration of the state that furthers (former Pakistan President Pervez) Musharraf’s plan to divide the state along religious lines and form a Muslim-majority Greater Kashmir.
Thus, the counter-narrative today is obvious. Kashmir is not a political problem but a religious problem. Islamisation of Kashmir is not acceptable to the other two regions, Jammu &Ladakh.
J&K is renowned for its composite culture and multi-religious society. Like Muslims live happily in Hindu-majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh, there is no reason to deny Hindus and Sikhs the same in Kashmir. Most Muslims in Kashmir do not favour a monolithic Kashmir but want a heterogeneous, composite Kashmir. Fear of the gun and the terror of Jamaat-e-Islami and Ahle Hadith prevents them from openly airing their views.
There is an urgent need to accept the problem. Sufism is the soul of Islam in Kashmir and its replacement by an alien Wahabism cannot be granted permanency. Peace cannot return to J&K till Sufism returns.
(The author is a Jammu based political commentator and strategic analyst. He can be contacted at email@example.com)